Grossmont’s New Merit System

Votes are in and the district has passed a proposal for a new merit system for hiring classified employees.

Katie Donivan, Staff Writer

The Grossmont-Cuyamaca College District voted March 3 to pass a petition filed by the California School Employees Association (CSEA) to move to a merit system for hiring new classified employees. The petition passed by a large majority of 209 to 92 votes. 

The merit system is a hiring system developed in California for education in the 1930s. At the time, there were many political appointees to higher-level positions. 

“That would be […]  favoritism or bias introduced into the hiring process,” said Kyler Miller, a labor relations representative for CSEA.

The merit system exists to promote employee retention and hire classified employee candidates based on their merits. The system implements a neutral third party to review the hiring process and make it fair and unbiased. 

The hiring process as it exists now for classified employees follows these steps:

  • A committee requests individuals for a position.
  • The request is approved and sent to HR for advertisement.
  • HR recruiters will review applications to see if they meet the minimum qualifications.
  • Qualified applications will move forward to a hiring committee.
  • Selected applications will move to the Governing Board for approval. 

“Historically, in this district – and this is just classified employee experience – there is a large amount of favoritism between bargaining units on this campus,” said Colleen Parsons, an administrative assistant and CSEA representative at Grossmont College. “Traditionally, faculty are treated better than classified employees on this campus. is one way for classified employees to see a little bit more equity.” 

According to Parsons, this statement can be substantiated when looking at raises faculty have received compared to their classified counterparts on the Board Docs page. With the lack of EEO officers and other HR resources, there is concern that the district is not doing enough to keep the hiring process equitable and non-exclusionary. This is something the district plans on implementing. 

The merit system removes some functions from HR and replaces them with a neutral third party to carry them out instead. This is called a personnel commission comprised of three commissioners: a district representative, the largest classified bargaining unit, and a third appointed neutral individual. They are in charge of creating eligibility lists that help rank potential employees. 

It is important to note that the merit system only impacts classified operational employees. 

“The hiring committee can create an arbitrary assessment off of whim and tailor it directly to the department,” Miller said. “Currently, tailors it so much to the exact position that you may not be able to answer the questions unless you’re an interim in that specific position.” 

This is detrimental to candidates with the skills needed to succeed in the position, but not all of the technical jargon or specificities. There are skills that are unique to a specific department, but this would not hinder a well-qualified candidate. However, these candidates are being turned away because of the detailed, meticulous assessments. 

There are three arms of responsibility for the new committee: Personnel, reclassification and discipline. The reclassification arm is charged with ensuring every position’s description accurately reflects what the candidate’s duties will entail. Issues within reclassification were why the classified employees moved to implement the merit system. 

Parsons explained that under the merit system, the district must do a reclassification study every five years and compare position descriptions to other districts’ to see if salaries compare. According to Parsons, Grossmont classified employees haven’t had a classified job study in more than 10 years.

The new merit system will construct a new process that begins with creating an eligibility list. The rest of the process will continue with:

  • A written assessment that will get rid of exclusionary language and possibly be in the candidate’s native tongue.
  • A skill assessment in a performance space (this is especially important for jobs like electricians or other operational positions)
  • An oral interview by a content expert 

Upon completion three candidates will be ranked and presented to the committee to choose from. Administrators cannot push back against these candidates because they are the most qualified for the job, creating a more equitable hiring process. 

The merit system action plan for implementation is already in progress. From March 3, the commission has a 30-day window to choose personnel commissioners for both the district and CSEA. CSEA had assured that they conferred with all bargaining groups before selecting their representative. 

The neutral third party will be confirmed 30 to 45 days after the announcement for the other commissioners. This person must be pro-merit, cannot work for the district, be a registered voter and live within the district. 

Once the commission is formed, it can take up to a year to finalize the rules and eligibility lists for the district. It can be adopted section by section instead of all at once to help ease HR into a new hiring process away from how it has always been done. 

The merit system is not a novel hiring process; La Mesa and Spring Valley school districts are merit and the County Board of Education. However, Parsons explained that Grossmont-Cuyamaca is the first community college district to go to merit since 1978. 

This marks an important development in equitable and inclusive hiring for higher education. Miller explained that non-native English speakers and candidates with disabilities now have access to a hiring process that considers their needs. Classified employees have high hopes for this new system and wish to see it change how the district treats them in the future.